In less than one week, 2020 will be behind us. Most all of us will be relieved when the clock strikes midnight and 2021 begins. Yet for those of us who have been around for at least 50, 60, or 70+ years, we know that while we have reason to be hopeful, it will take time for meaningful change to take place. With our hindsight, an increased ability to see a better future, and our ability to adapt, we have a significant role to play as our country starts a long journey towards healing.
Looking back, Looking Forward
A Pandemic Shroud
Each of us has experienced our own challenges in 2020. Some of us have lost family members or friends to COVID. Others have lost jobs or their businesses as a result of the pandemic. This month, when many of us would have enjoyed traditional family gatherings, we have had to limit contact with anyone outside our own homes.
Despite vaccines and the likelihood of increased short-term mask requirements, it could take several months before a large percentage of people in the U.S. will ‘feel’ as though life is returning to some degree of normalcy. Change will happen, but it will take time.
A Climate in Peril
During the late summer and fall, fires on the West Coast destroyed lives, property, and vast swaths of our forests. Though spared significant loss, many of us were on evacuation alert as heavy, dark smoke choked the air around us. On the East Coast, storms and floods cost lives and destroyed property.
Researchers have warned us that the long-term effects of climate change and some of the associated pollutants have created unsustainable environments that support life as we know it.
Many of us recognize that we need new policies to address the severe consequences of climate change. Even if climate-friendly policies are enacted early in 2021, we also know it could take years to see those policies’ full benefits.
A Divided People
Because of political divisions, neighbors, family members, and community members have turned against each other; I have experienced this division in my own family as well. How did politics become more important than what we share in common?
Marches and protests have exposed injustices and more significant divisions. When participating in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in my own community, those of us who stood for justice and human rights experienced a mix of support and taunts.
It is not hard to understand why so many people are stressed out and discouraged with so much to process.
Those of us who have lived a while tend to be a bit more resilient than younger people. We know that difficult times will eventually pass. Many younger people haven’t experienced anything so upending as what we have lived through this past year. One of the roles we can play is to encourage others to look ahead. We can walk alongside those who are discouraged and offer them a bit of hope for the future. For those of us who have younger family members—grandchildren, nieces, or nephews—we can step into the role of a family elder who can help guide the next generation into the future.
Most of us can remember when the notion of a climate crisis wasn’t on our radar. As a result, our lifestyles have undoubtedly contributed to (or at least compounded) the situation we currently face. Now, we have an opportunity to recognize the shortsightedness of the past and start leading by example for future generations. Even if we start small by taking individual responsibility for our actions, we can help bring about positive change.
Those of us who have lived a few years also know that one way we survive is through adaptation and support. While many of us missed participating in larger family gatherings during the holiday season, some of us discovered new ways to adapt.
One of my sisters hosted a special event for my other sister and me. She created a little magic in her garage for the three of us a couple of weeks ago. My sister cleared out her cars, put rugs down, added some holiday music, decorations, a heater, and offered some refreshments. When we met, the garage door was wide open, chairs were placed about 8-10 feet apart, and we all wore masks. To me, this act of love will always be one of my most heart-warming memories of the holiday season.
Despite apparent ideological differences in my own neighborhood, many of us have tried to reach out to each other, especially those who have been isolated during the past month. Compassion for each other has replaced political divisions. We have learned that anger and divisiveness are not good survival strategies.
We have the power to offer hope for a better tomorrow. “Yes, we can!”